How Trump Wins: Small Ball

"Small ball" is baseball jargon for producing runs without swinging for the fences, by doing little things like bunting, walking, and stealing bases.  It is more common in the conservative National League than the progressive American, where the designated hitter rule makes the strategy less productive.  Analogously, conservative Republican presidents can be successful playing political small ball, while progressive Democrats like Obama are prone to sloppy politics that might force big "successes" at significant cost – e.g., the Affordable Care Act.  President-Elect Trump would do well to consider this come January.

Small ball might produce a low-score game, but a 1-0 victory counts as much as 10-9.  For many baseball aficionados, the former is a preferable outcome, since it usually means there was good pitching and relatively error-free play.  In national politics, a similarly conservative approach is available to Republican presidents whose constituency, like the community of baseball purists, is often content with small governmental achievements that mostly allow Americans to get on with their own lives and, as a consequence, promote economic growth and social freedom. 

Temperamentally, Trump is not a small ball kind of guy.  And with all the chatter post-election about what Trump can or should do, having won an Electoral College mandate, entering office with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and the ability to put a fifth conservative justice on the Supreme Court, Trump will be tempted to overreach.  But while a Democrat in such a situation – like Barack Obama in 2008 – necessarily sees in such a condition as an opportunity to  proactively govern, Trump ought to view this first as a means to keep a leash on Democrat progressivism.  Only if the chance is particularly politically advantageous should he use his position as a vehicle to legislate a Republican agenda.

What might this political small ball look like?  Appoint a reliable conservative Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, and if infirmity or death presents another vacancy, fill it similarly.  Unilaterally modify the Affordable Care Act through executive action, Obama having set that precedent. Otherwise, roll back Obama's executive orders.  Staff executive departments with conservative leaders and order them and their minions not to legislate through federal regulation.  Cut back the federal bureaucracy by freezing hiring.  Starve those departments that ought to go – like the Department of Education.  Enforce existing immigration laws.  Demand James Comey's resignation.  Let justice take its course with respect to Hillary Clinton's misdeeds and those of the Clinton Foundation.  Likewise, allow the military prosecution of Bowe Bergdahl to proceed without further executive interference.  Permit the construction of the Keystone XL.  Move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.  Declare Iran in violation of its agreement with the Obama administration and demand compliance or re-imposition of sanctions.  Kill the TTP and TTIP, and then reassure American allies and trading partners of our strength, friendship, and desire for peaceable fair trade and relations.

Trump can do all of this with or without Congress.  He has the opportunity to make major changes to the course and tone of political action and discourse without promulgating any new laws, and without actually expanding the power of the executive.  He will be merely, where necessary, be using powers that Obama, with the acquiescence of the courts and Congress, already conferred upon the executive, and otherwise actively rolling those powers back. 

This will drive the Democrats crazy.  In this regard, he should resist joining them in another wasteful and budget-busting infrastructure fiasco.  Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will be worse than powerless; they will be irrelevant.  And therein lies some additional opportunity.  After a couple of years of successful small ball, holding or even expanding Republican holds on Congress in the midterms, Trump could advance the kind of legislation that is most important to the country, such as reforming the corrupted, incomprehensible, and burdensome tax code.  By then, assuming success in the midterms, which a couple years of modest small ball should bring, even Democrat legislators might be anxious to do something to validate their existence and hold up to their constituents.  Meaningful tax reform will please Republican and Democrat voters alike. 

By not overreaching, Trump will also limit the power of the mainstream media to ravage him, which they will try to do at every opportunity, and keep conservatives and the alternative conservative media mostly on his side.  It is a manageable agenda that will allow a long learning curve, while maintaining Trump's basic promises to his core constituency, while reassuring other Republicans and many Democrats that he is capable of governing reasonably and effectively.  

If Trump does nothing else but these things in four years, he will have a successful first term as president and likely win a second.

"Small ball" is baseball jargon for producing runs without swinging for the fences, by doing little things like bunting, walking, and stealing bases.  It is more common in the conservative National League than the progressive American, where the designated hitter rule makes the strategy less productive.  Analogously, conservative Republican presidents can be successful playing political small ball, while progressive Democrats like Obama are prone to sloppy politics that might force big "successes" at significant cost – e.g., the Affordable Care Act.  President-Elect Trump would do well to consider this come January.

Small ball might produce a low-score game, but a 1-0 victory counts as much as 10-9.  For many baseball aficionados, the former is a preferable outcome, since it usually means there was good pitching and relatively error-free play.  In national politics, a similarly conservative approach is available to Republican presidents whose constituency, like the community of baseball purists, is often content with small governmental achievements that mostly allow Americans to get on with their own lives and, as a consequence, promote economic growth and social freedom. 

Temperamentally, Trump is not a small ball kind of guy.  And with all the chatter post-election about what Trump can or should do, having won an Electoral College mandate, entering office with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and the ability to put a fifth conservative justice on the Supreme Court, Trump will be tempted to overreach.  But while a Democrat in such a situation – like Barack Obama in 2008 – necessarily sees in such a condition as an opportunity to  proactively govern, Trump ought to view this first as a means to keep a leash on Democrat progressivism.  Only if the chance is particularly politically advantageous should he use his position as a vehicle to legislate a Republican agenda.

What might this political small ball look like?  Appoint a reliable conservative Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, and if infirmity or death presents another vacancy, fill it similarly.  Unilaterally modify the Affordable Care Act through executive action, Obama having set that precedent. Otherwise, roll back Obama's executive orders.  Staff executive departments with conservative leaders and order them and their minions not to legislate through federal regulation.  Cut back the federal bureaucracy by freezing hiring.  Starve those departments that ought to go – like the Department of Education.  Enforce existing immigration laws.  Demand James Comey's resignation.  Let justice take its course with respect to Hillary Clinton's misdeeds and those of the Clinton Foundation.  Likewise, allow the military prosecution of Bowe Bergdahl to proceed without further executive interference.  Permit the construction of the Keystone XL.  Move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.  Declare Iran in violation of its agreement with the Obama administration and demand compliance or re-imposition of sanctions.  Kill the TTP and TTIP, and then reassure American allies and trading partners of our strength, friendship, and desire for peaceable fair trade and relations.

Trump can do all of this with or without Congress.  He has the opportunity to make major changes to the course and tone of political action and discourse without promulgating any new laws, and without actually expanding the power of the executive.  He will be merely, where necessary, be using powers that Obama, with the acquiescence of the courts and Congress, already conferred upon the executive, and otherwise actively rolling those powers back. 

This will drive the Democrats crazy.  In this regard, he should resist joining them in another wasteful and budget-busting infrastructure fiasco.  Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will be worse than powerless; they will be irrelevant.  And therein lies some additional opportunity.  After a couple of years of successful small ball, holding or even expanding Republican holds on Congress in the midterms, Trump could advance the kind of legislation that is most important to the country, such as reforming the corrupted, incomprehensible, and burdensome tax code.  By then, assuming success in the midterms, which a couple years of modest small ball should bring, even Democrat legislators might be anxious to do something to validate their existence and hold up to their constituents.  Meaningful tax reform will please Republican and Democrat voters alike. 

By not overreaching, Trump will also limit the power of the mainstream media to ravage him, which they will try to do at every opportunity, and keep conservatives and the alternative conservative media mostly on his side.  It is a manageable agenda that will allow a long learning curve, while maintaining Trump's basic promises to his core constituency, while reassuring other Republicans and many Democrats that he is capable of governing reasonably and effectively.  

If Trump does nothing else but these things in four years, he will have a successful first term as president and likely win a second.